We’re already over halfway through 2011. I wanted to highlight a few fine records I’ve gotten into so far. I wrote up a list of my favorite Iowa City releases for Little Village Magazine already, so I won’t be rehashing that, I’ll just single out some stellar releases and unnecessarily pigeon-hole and qualify them cause, why not?

Mike Birbiglia
Sleepwalk With Me (Live)
Comedy Central Records

This is a no-brainer. I haven’t heard many comedy albums in 2011 (not for lack of material, but for lack of finances), but I have a hard time imagining a comedy recording that I’ve yet to hear from 2011 with as much heart and laughs as deep as Mike Birbiglia‘s latest release.
Sleepwalk With Me is not a stand-up record though. Birbiglia has been touring with this one man show for a few years (compiled the stories into a book as well) and finally committed it to record for posterity.
That is to say, this is not set-up/punchline or annecdotal sequences bundled together, this is a meticulously structured (not that stand-up can’t be as well) personal narrative that plays like a super hilarious episode of This American Life–which has featured portions of this one-man show as well as other work from Birbiglia over the years.
Birbiglia’s one man show would still be quite funny if the story of his trials with a sleepwalking disorder neatly and chronologically; however, the comic embraced a human tendency to digress. But where we tell stories and branch off into how we met the girl we were seeing at the time or what a pain in that ass that car was, Birbiglia takes those moments, mines them, and exposes the humor and humanity in his digressions before making it clear why he actually delves into what appeared ancillary.
This is the kind of comedic performance that elevates stand-up to art form. Rich, evocative story telling, immaculate pacing. And, because Birbiglia gets to play around in the nebulous format of “one-man show,” Mike also gets to strike dramatic and even heart-breaking chords. He does so lightly, and quickly. He knows he has the room for a little drama, and knows he doesn’t need it to build to a punch line–he’s off-off-off-off Broadway, for Christ’s sake–but he’s not out to get you misty.
There are quite a few releases with great potential on the horizon, but I can almost assure you this will be in my top 5 comedy releases of 2-Oceans-11.

Runner Up: Alex Koll – Wizard Hello (Rooftop Comedy)